Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Enough to Drown a Small Dog

Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who is an ordained Southern Baptist Minister, recently warned that President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could force his religion to begin using less water to baptize believers. . . . Huckabee worried that if the president could mandate that Catholic institutions’ health insurance cover birth control for women then what would be next?

                                                                     - The Raw Story, June 20, 2012

What, indeed? Baptism, in case you're unfamiliar with the practice or can't remember your own, is basically noodling for Baptists. A good old Baptist baptism, like a noodling party, needs whole rivers to come off with aplomb and just the right amount of espiglerie. How much is enough? In some theological circles, there's never enough when bringing souls to Jesus.

Why some people might think waterboarding isn't torture

Rev. Huckabee's Baptists have refined the art of immersion to include both portable baptismal pools and water heaters, on the twin premises that 1) you never know when or where you might need to baptize something, and 2) that no one should ever suffer for their faith. Still, it seems that whether your sins are washed away in a chilly public watercourse or in a heated private receptacle, the EPA should be able to regulate the use and disposal of such water on much the same considerations as it regulates proper disposal of other hazardous waste (just think of sin as metaphysical radioactivity).

Nobody does it like the Baptists - unless it's the Catholics, who sublimate the need for 1250-gallon tanks with special furniture and pretty plush vestments - you won't see Fr. O'Shaughnessy wearing a red #19 football jersey when manning the font. The fonts themselves can vary in ornateness and finish, beginning with the basic Bulgarian model below, which has presumably also held such homelier substances as boiled cabbages, laundry, horse bones, a litter of dogs and the nearly lethal Bulgarian version of aqua vitae (a known cause of blindness in laboratory rats).

In fact, modesty in accoutrement and the responsible use of water resources seemed to be the rule before baptism became a competitive sport in which the various sects vied to find the blood of the Lamb in their local aquifers. Here is an ancient Roman photograph depicting a simple Christian ceremony in which a mere handful of water suffices to represent the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost and all the ships at sea, and to attract the generally unwelcome attention of some Roman soldiers who, in what bears every hallmark of the ideal creative situation, may be about to invent waterboarding . . .

But what the Bulgarians may have lacked in the refinement of their liturgical utensils was more than compensated by the Renaissance Italians . . .

. . . who long held the field for baptismal fonts until the Mormons did for baptism what Esther Williams did for synchronized swimming, or Leona Helmsley for piss-elegant hotelierie . . .

. . . which is kind of odd when you think about it, because why do you need water to baptize the dead? It seems a little club soda would work at least as well. But in Utah they go for the de luxe model, complete with a herd of bronze steers - first you get baptized in it and then what . . . the waiters fill it with champagne?

But Huckabee raises an interesting question of governance, representing as he does the Party of Small Government. Under his favored political regime, the Justice Department or the various states' attornies general would regulate the dissemination of contraceptives; the availability of medical procedures such as abortions would be contingent on watching government-mandated sonograms recorded by government-mandated ultrasounds administered by government-regulated doctors who would legally have to have their hands where they've no business being in the first place.

Huckabee's religious views on specific reproductive health questions are getting a broad hearing from state legislatures across the country. It seems high time for a compromise between the evangelical right on the . . . well, on the right, and the EPA and the Department of Agriculture, the agencies that oversee water use. What we need is a sort of baptismal rule of thumb that everyone can accept in a spirit of compromise, evangelical broad-mindedness and true ecumenism. To baptise one person, you can only use the amount of water required to drown a small dog. More than that would just be spiritual pride.

"Go ahead, baptize me, I dareya!"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Crashing In Line

I just completed a week-long solo tour of the Rocky Mountains on a bicycle, without incident save for some sunburn and a greasy chainring mark on my calf, merely the sine qua non and badge of honor for anyone in command of a filthy bicycle.
Today I went out for a ride with some friends and some friends of theirs - people I'd never met before - people who, in a word, don't ride together much or have never done. We decided to do a paceline out onto the prairie. I had my reservations about that, for the reasons just mentioned, but figured I'd take my chances and allow caution, good sense and circumspection to stand in for the protocols of familiarity and long practice. 

The first 10 miles went pretty well, everyone a bit shaky at first, the line going herky-jerky every few hundred yards, then getting a rhythm after the first few miles. It seemed to be working until someone in media res grabbed the brakes and sent a spasm of brake-grabbing back down the line to the last guy, who happened to be me. I've ridden in enough pace lines in the last two centuries (twentieth and twenty-first, not Santa Fe and Red River) to know not to stare at the wheel in front of you, but I was staring at the wheel in front of me when I was suddenly on it, nipped it just enough to peel the sewup tire off my front rim, leaving me nowhere to go but down. I was sprawled on the road faster than a Congressman can take a check.

Doug Lamborn, R-CO 
(courtesy Rocky Mountain Taxidermy)

Several hours later, I am still taking inventory of my stoved up parts - sprained left thumb, bruised right ankle, bruised rib cage. But the right side of my face looks like I was mugged for a box of Krispy Kremes in the parking lot of an all-night Seven-Eleven.

After I got to my feet, stanched the stream of blood from my face and sorted out which of my joints were still serviceable, one of my ride mates had already left the scene to go for his pickup and ferry me and my bike back to the start point. But I felt sound enough to ride back, so when everyone had set off for the return ride, I slipped the sewup back onto the rim, pumped it up and set out to meet them at the start point.

On the ride back it occurred to me that perhaps I should do some sort of cognitive exercises to determine just how disoriented I might be from my head smacking the pavement with some force. So I quizzed myself on the usual memory questions - I knew the date, knew what century I was in, remembered my name and birthday with perfect clarity, recalled immediately the name of the president and all five of the Supreme Court majority in Citizens United. I remembered all twelve Apostles, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four humors, the Four Tops, all four of the Kingston Trio, who the Queen is . . . 

". . . oh, still him?"

But it was scary . . . I could not for the life of me remember who's the prime minister of Azerbaijan. I'm going to have to get my head examined after all.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Plaything of Chance

I am just returned from my sojourn in the mountains. I just can't read other people's travelogs and so I can't in fairness encumber you with more than this singular account of one night, camped out in my little tent on my solitary ground pad of woe.

His tent
My second day out, I had unwittingly blundered onto the course of the Denver Post's annual Ride the Rockies, a day in advance of the main pack. (You can read the Denver Post's account of the six-day ride by Lucas McCain, "a Boulder triathlete and micro-brew aficionado who has lived in Colorado for a year and a half." And if Lucas's thumbnail self-description doesn't make you want to read more, I can't think what else Lucas might mention about himself aside from his natural fiber handbag fetish and a list of his favorite Whole Foods nutritional supplements that could possibly pique such a jaded interest.)

Going up McClure Pass on my second day of cycling, I encountered a young rider on her nifty plastic bicycle. We chatted one another up for a while and she was off up the ascent, never having once mentioned the impending horde at my very heels. My suspicions should have been aroused by the orange spray-painted graffiti at intervals on the pavement, inspirational drivel written by the sort who write the little tags in fortune cookies - Become One With Your Bike! or You Are Nothing Without Your Bicycle! . . . Your Bicycle is Nothing Without You! - the sort of cheerful tripe that is invariably punctuated with ! It was all along the route in anticipation of the riders' transit the next day.

In any case, by the time I reached Carbondale the following day I was in the pack. The town was awash with fifty-something guys in lycra and spandex, their bicycles leaned against every available railing and storefront, and I knew I was out of luck. I'd have to pitch my tent at the main campsite on the high school football field or sit on the street all night. I knew I'd find a spot there where I could at least put a tent, so I rode over to the local gridiron, which by now resembled an REI fire sale (or a likely drone target). 

 "Pardon me, I'm looking for a Pakistani wedding party . . .?"

But I got lucky - right on the near edge of the tent village, along the sidewalk that bounded the field, I found a narrow spot and squeezed my tent in along the perimeter, where the whale music and deep soundings of the night promised to be muted by distance and the intervening tents. (I have remarked elsewhere on the pitfalls of camping in a herd of large primates.)

I figured that by this time of the evening Carbondale's array of Asian/Moroccan and Greek/Burmese fusion restaurants would be fully occupied by the visiting cognoscenti, so I pedalled up the street to Fatbelly Burgers for a solitary al fresco dining experience. Fatbelly's is everything a Cotopaxi burger strives to be and I can recommend it unreservedly, so long as you're not in the mood for catfish a la Morocco glazed in a wasabi-pomegranate reduction. Ketchup and mustard are free with any meal - that goes for the burgers at Fatbelly as well.

Replete for the evening and wearying of my own company, I retired to my tent at about 9 p.m. as things seemed to be settling down nicely back at the football field. I had chosen my immediate neighbors circumspectly for their age, civility and apparent sobriety, and I was not mistaken. They were turned in and probably nearly asleep by now, and I promised to be as well. I zipped myself in, settled down, and was nearly in the arms of Morpheus when I heard a loud flop somewhere near the starboard of my tent - another tent hit the ground and a new arrival, I'll call him Interloper #1, began to assemble it. Lying there in the dark, I thought the tent seemed to be put together like a Chinese puzzle or an origami which required a great deal of unfolding, turning over, turning around and generally starting over in order to make any sense of. 

His tent
All the while the interloper was grunting and wheezing stertorously. Bending over seemed a superhuman effort, as though he were wrestling Attila the Hung on television. When finally, after what seemed an epic struggle, it was standing and pegged, Interloper #1 began to unload all his gear into the tent from a series of duffels and other bags inside of bags, all zippered up inside one another like a set of Russian dolls - a nerve-fraying succession of zips each ending in a crescendo - "zzzzzziiiiiiiiii-I-I-PPP!"

No sooner was he settled and quiet when off to the larboard I heard car doors slam and then the voice of a 12-year-old inquiring whether his father had just had a text messagedidja-didja-huh-didja? Another tent hit the ground nearby, up it went to incessant childish patter. Interloper #2 had arrived for the night. More floundering and zipping, more incessant blather from the kid, and finally I piped in my most maternal voice, "Good nii-ight!" That was enough to get the father to shut the kid up and everyone finally settled in at about 10 p.m. for the long sleep until dawn.

Interloper #1 was the first to sound the depths. Once he was snoring at full throttle, Interloper #2 joined in, and the whale music commenced in earnest. I had a moment to reflect that homicidal emotions do not bring in their wake a sense of repose. The two of them snored away like the pope at novenas for most of the night. 

By this time my bladder was nudging me mercilessly. So - "zzzzzziiiiiiiiii-I-I-PPP!" I went, and crept off behind a tree which obliged me by standing still for the duration. About the time I finally dozed off, I was promptly awakened by the sound of a cell phone alarm nearby. It was barely twilight. I went back to sleep and awoke a second time to a lawn mercifully deserted, devoid of all but a few tents, a desert with no voices sounding. I took my time and enjoyed the late morning sun and the quiet.

Camping among large primates is an allegory of life - I find I am but the plaything of chance. At least I didn't camp indoors.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Next Schismatic Pope

As my Kansas jaunt was such a resounding success, I've decided to take a hiatus from my position as semi-professional blogister and entertainer at the keyboard to load up my bedroll on the back end of my bicycle and take a tour of my adopted state. While I am still able to get over the Continental Divide by pedalling. This is, I admit, a sudden whim.

Or I might just go to my summer palace near Avignon and wait out the election (I'm referring, as you probably surmised, to my upcoming election as the schismatic pope). In any event, I'll return sometime around the 17th instanter on the clear presumption that everyone can wait that long. I hope I have something to tell you. (It's never too late to make a new start.)

In the meantime, eat your goddamn vegetables.

And don't play with snakes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer in Kansas: Cycling the Mediterranean

 How you can tell you're in rural Kansas

I should mention at the outset that the Kansas Mediterranean is not a place, but that rare concatenation of high barometric pressure, negligible wind speeds, moderate temperatures, clarity of air and sunlight, all lodging in an overheated imagination the Ozzean fantasy that one is no longer in Kansas. And as this recurring kharmic loop I'm on seems to return me to Kansas at regular intervals, I've savored the few days of Mediterranea just past. I managed about 100 miles in Sumner and Cowley Counties, cycling empty backroads along shelter belts, woodlots, ankle-high corn and fresh wheat stubble.

The ride of choice

Rural Kansas is not in general a benign place, nurturing as it does noxious plants, oversized insects, rodents the size of lap dogs, the globe's densest skunk population, and serpents sufficiently venemous to satisfy any Pentecostal deity. This time seemed different. The woods and tree rows were a pandemonium of orioles, thrashers, mockingbirds, cardinals; the scissor-tails and mourning doves paired up on telephone lines. Generally when cattle grazing backroad pastures spot a bicycle, they heave themselves up and bolt off into the distance; this time, about 20 of them grazing along the fence stopped to watch as I passed, bolted in a body up the pasture, gathered at the fence to watch me pass again, and a second time galloped the fenceline to the corner to entertain their curiosity. I made their day.

In about three days of riding I met only two other cyclists on the road; the first day, in the rain a local chap on a mountain bike loaded with panniers, voluminous orange poncho billowing around him - from a distance he looked like a roadside utility worksite - just off on a two-day camping ride.

The second was a fifty-something fellow in cycling helmet, jeans and threadbare T-shirt on an old Cannondale road bike who waited at an intersection until I rode up, then promptly enveloped me in a fog of self-referential monologue. He was happy to meet a fellow cyclist and wanted to talk. It took me nearly 10 minutes of polite listening before I could extricate myself, in which time I learned that:
  • he had come nearly 20 miles from Ark City to the point where we were fated to meet
  • the bicycle had been given to him recently and had "changed his life" since he could now ride longer distances from home although he could not do the "35 miles an hour" required to keep up the pace on the local club rides, perhaps because he was a diabetic with a pacemaker (here he stretched the already capacious neck of his shirt to show his scar)
  • his wife had lost 90 pounds and had undergone two knee replacements on the same knee
  • he was an amateur radio operator
  • he had moved from Topeka in recent years
  • he now worked in his new abode for minimum wage
  • he had built his bike on the cheap from parts shopped off Craigslist
  • his income no longer permitted him to pursue his first love which was auto racing, nor did it permit him the discretionary income required to drive the old Corvette parked in his front yard back in Ark City, nor could his nephew afford to drive the said Corvette
  • he had just seen a beaver in a nearby ditch.

"Still love ya, baby."